This article is for you, especially for you, if you have been thinking about going back to Mass this Christmas season. On the part of all of us at Catholic-Link, let me personally invite you back to mass (we even wrote a letter for you!): We want you back! Today’s articles looks to give you a few tips which we hope will enrich your experience. But remember, in the end it’s simple. We want you back. Just come!
Maybe it has been a little while since you last went to Mass, or maybe it has been a very long time. Either way, Advent is a time set aside for preparation, not just the preparation for Christmas, but the necessary preparation for meeting Jesus Christ in our hearts. If ‘going back to Mass’ has been in the back of your mind for some time, if you can feel a little pull on your heart that wants to go back but you’re worried or anxious or just a little unsure about it, this is for you.
9 Tips for Returning to Church:
1. Remain calm!
Just as a little disclaimer before we get started here, let’s just state something clearly: If you are worried, don’t worry. It’s not like there will be a flashing light above your head saying “Hey! This guy hasn’t been to Mass in YEARS!” God wants you back how you are now, preparing for Mass doesn’t mean becoming perfect first before you can return. God wants us all to grow into the very best He has prepared for us, but that doesn’t mean you have to pass through a sin metal detector to get in. Come as you are.
2. Prepare in Advance
As with any special occasion, preparation is important. Putting on your best clothes makes an impact on how you feel and behave when you are there: dressing your best helps us to focus. See this article on what to wear to Mass if you are unsure.
Secondly, look up the Gospel reading a day ahead; read it and let it sink in a bit (instead of going in blind). If you plan to go with your family, try reading it together. You can find the daily readings for each Mass here. In addition you can also read a Gospel reflection to help you understand the meaning of the passage and how it can impact on your life. See some Gospel reflections here.
Thirdly, in 2011, the Church released a new translation of the text of the Mass which may sound a little foreign to ears that have grown accustomed to the older, looser translation in use, with only minor changes, for over 40 years. For example, when the Priest says, “The Lord be with you.” Instead of responding, “An also with you;” now we should say, “And with your spirit.” For brief guide, we suggest taking a look here.
**Just to be clear, these are 3 suggestions that we make because we think that it will enrich your experience, but don’t let these things stop you from coming. In the end, it’s simple. We want you back. Just come!
3. Find someone you can go with:
It is tough to go anywhere new alone and it’s no different if you are returning to Mass after some time. If you want to go to Mass but have no one to go with, see if you can connect with someone who could go with you. This might be a friend who already goes regularly in a parish, or even just an acquaintance. Maybe it is a family member who has asked you previously if you’d like to come to Mass with them. Contact them and ask if you can go along together. You don’t have to tell them all your reasons why or give them the backstory if you don’t want to. Just reach out to someone and ask them simply to accompany you. If they are a good friend, they won’t be nosy, they’ll just quietly take you along with them.
4. Arrive with some time to spare
Try to arrive with some time to spare so that you don’t have a last-minute stressful rush. If your church has them, take a hymn book and a Mass sheet or booklet so you can follow the parts of the Mass (or bring a Missal with you). Use this time to recollect yourself, to pray, and to ask that the Holy Spirit allow you to participate in the Mass as best as you possibly can. Above, use this time to remember what Christmas is all about: Jesus’ love for you!
The Mass is not meant to be a form of entertainment but neither are we meant to be static watchers of the event. Sing your heart out (it doesn’t matter if you think you can’t sing, it’s not a competition!), say all the responses, be an active participant in the Mass. The translations of the Mass changed in 2011, so if you’ve not been in a while you might find the wording a little different from what you remember. Don’t worry if you make mistakes and if you’re not sure when to sit, stand or kneel; just follow the people around you. If you are confused as to all the sitting, standing, kneeling, remember this- it helps us focus on the importance of what is happening in that moment. The main thing is to give all you can during the Mass, bringing all that is good and bad in your life and laying it before your heavenly Father who loves you.
6. Children are Welcome Too (Even if They are Crying!)
Maybe you are returning to Mass with children for the first time. If so, please don’t worry if your baby is crying at Mass. There will be many people there who are parents and remember what it is like taking a baby to Mass. Many parishes have a ‘crying room’ at the back where you can take your baby if you want to; you can still follow along with the Mass while in there.
For older children it is good to bring something along with you (like a prayer book or bible story or children’s missal) to help focus them.
Before going to receive Communion, invite Jesus into your heart and try to be very present in the moment. Spend time in the pew afterwards talking to Jesus and thanking Him for all He has given you. You can see this article and video for an explanation of what is happening during this moment.
Receiving Christ is a beautiful gift, if you are prepared! Remember that you should only receive communion if you are in a state of grace (If you haven’t been to mass for a while, than you need to go to confession beforehand. For more guidelines on receiving communion take a look here). I recognise that this is tough to understand for many, but let’s trust the Saint Paul on this one (Cfr. 1 Cor 11:27).
If you are up for it and can find a priest before mass, here’s a very helpful explanation of how to go to confession. Going back to Mass is much more than just a ritual, it’s an authentic encounter with Christ and we want our hearts cleaned up and in order so that we can give Him the welcome He deserves! Check out your local parish’s website for confession times.
If you are in circumstances that mean you cannot receive the Eucharist (if you aren’t able to make it to confession prior to Mass), we suggest that you remain in your pew in prayer. There you can do what is called an act of spiritual communion. Here is a beautiful prayer shared by Etwn:
My Jesus, I believe that You are present in the Most Holy Sacrament. I love You above all things, and I desire to receive You into my soul. Since I cannot at this moment receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as if You were already there and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You. Amen.
Incidentally, we all (especially those of us who attend Mass regularly) need to be reminded of the importance of not taking the Lord for granted. Don’t worry about what other people think. It is between you and God. No one should be judging people from the communion queue to the pews, or vice versa. It’s not a time when people should be looking and thinking about why others aren’t receiving Communion — it is a time when we should all be looking into our own hearts and with trust and confidence and joy, asking the Lord to heal us and bring us all to the place where we can receive His forgiveness and be in that state of grace to receive Him.
**Certain dioceses encourage those who are not going to receive the Eucharist to receive a “Communion blessing”. To be clear, a eucharist minister cannot give a blessing in the proper sense of the term; only a deacon or a priest can. Some have said that the practice can be helpful for some who might feel very uncomfortable remaining in the pews (at times causing a traffic jam) and that the important thing is that they refrain from receiving communion. In any case, keep it simple: ask your parish priest before mass what he suggests or discern what makes sense where you are at.
ETWN offered an interesting post here that might help clear up the issue.
Afterwards, don’t just rush off out of the Church. Take some moments inside to reflect on what just happened. Was there anything that struck you? How should this change your life? Is there anything you need to do to change? You could reflect on this at home if that is better for you. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to the priest afterwards and join in the refreshments too, if your parish has them.
9. And Finally- Don’t Expect Perfection
Sometimes when we go to Mass, things don’t go as well as we would wish. In an ideal world, the congregation at Mass would be full of life and joy, the priest would give an inspirational homily and everyone would go away feeling completely one with God. But other times Mass can feel different; others around us may look bored, still half asleep, the priest may give a lacklustre homily. Regardless of your experience of Mass, remember this- Christ is truly and objectively present in the Mass. He is not limited by our human imperfections. He still wants to be with us, in every part of our lives, even when Mass may feel disappointing. Christ is still there, even if it feels like others are not truly present themselves. A strong familiarity with the Mass can sadly lead to tedium or apathy if we are not careful, but remember that Christ is still deeply interested in us and He does not stop gently calling us to a deeper participation in the Mass. He came to bind the wounded and gather us all up together in Him. Focus on giving your all to the Mass, making connections if you can with those around you, and remember, Mass is an act of faith. Don’t worry if you don’t feel anything but please be reassured that Christ is delighted to see you back.
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To take advantage of the great spiritual fruits that God gives us through the Eucharistic Celebration, we should know it, understand it, and participate in